The Wooded Western Edge
Nobody expected Monty Python on the Heart 200, but the legendary comedy team filmed on location at Doune Castle during the production of Monty Python and the Holy Grail – and in more recent years, the same historic venue has been used as Castle Winterfell in the original pilot episode of Game of Thrones, and as Castle Leoch in Outlander. But that’s just one of the surprises in store for you in this beautiful part of Scotland. The Wooded Western Edge of Heart 200 features some stunning scenery, including locations around the beautiful Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, boat trips at picturesque Loch Katrine, walks around charming Callander, exciting activities in verdant Aberfoyle, and much more besides.
Doune is a burgh of Stirling which offers something to suit all tastes. It is particularly well-known for Doune Castle, a remarkably preserved 14thcentury courtyard castle which includes a towering gatehouse and its impressive Lord’s Hall. Today, the castle is a regular highlight of film location tours due to its imposing presence and attractive location.
On the approach to Doune is the famous David Stirling Monument, a striking statue constructed as a memorial to Colonel Sir David Stirling, OBE, DSO (1915–1990), who founded the Special Air Service (SAS). Sir David was a Scottish landowner and keen mountaineer, whose soaring reputation was cemented by his distinguished service to the Allied cause in World War II.
Argaty Red Kites is a reserve and feeding station for wild birds based at Lerrocks Farm, Argaty, and was the winner of the RSPB Nature Tourism Award 2018. This attraction is the only feeding station for red kites in Scotland and features a hide where members of the public can watch these wonderful birds, which were reintroduced to Central Scotland by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage. There is also a visitor’s centre, and comprehensive information about the red kites and the other wild birds of Scotland.
Based near Doune at Lime Avenue, Blair Drummond, the Blair Drummond Safari Park is easily accessed and is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions. The park is perfect for nature lovers everywhere, and a visit presents many opportunities to view animals ranging from giraffes, big cats, elephants, meerkats, birds of prey, and many others.
Just across the River Teith from Doune is the Deanston Distillery, which features an informative visitor centre and guided tours take its visitors on a journey through time from the building’s early days as a cotton mill to its current use as a modern-day distillery. As well as its range of products for sale, Deanston Distillery also has a popular café where food is prepared by hand in their acclaimed distillery kitchen.
For those seeking a memento of their visit to Doune, the Scottish Antiques and Arts Centre is based on the Carse of Cambus near Doune and offers a wide range of interesting and unusual items for sale. There is also a farmers’ market which takes place on a monthly basis at the Courtyard, showcasing locally-produced artisan food and plants.
Looking for accommodation in the Doune area? Fancy staying in a wooden wigwam or even a Seaking helicopter? Yes, you did just read that. A Seaking helicopter! Check out Mains Farm Wigwams at Thornhill.
The main Heart 200 route passes through Lochearnhead at the western end of Loch Earn. St Fillans at the eastern end of the loch can be reached by taking the A85 along the north side of the loch from Lochearnhead, or the narrow unclassified road on the south side of the loch from a turn off from the A84 about half a mile south of Lochearnhead, or alternatively by heading west from Comrie along the A85. St Fillans and Lochearnhead both have a range of visitor facilities.
The area around Loch Earn is well served with a network of Sustrans walking, cycling and horse-riding paths. The north-south Sustrans route 7 from Callander to Killin passes to the west of Lochearnhead and offers opportunities for those wanting to get out and active, and take in a grand view looking down on Loch Earn. Likewise, at St Fillans the Loch Earn Railway Path is a Sustrans project that is opening up sections of the old railway line from Perth to Lochearnhead. The Comrie to St Fillans section is complete and in-time it will be possible to follow the old line from St Fillans to Lochearnhead.
Although Loch Earn is close to the centre of Scotland and sits around 100 metres above sea level, it has a strange tidal movement called a seiche. The pressure created by the prevailing wind on the loch causes an oscillation along the length of the loch, resulting in a small rise and fall in the level of the loch at St Fillans and Lochearnhead. Lake Geneva and Lake Garda have similar tidal movements.
A picturesque and busy town which features many independent shops and eating places, Callander is considered the Gateway to the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. The town is popular with walkers and cyclists, with many well-liked trails in the area including Bracklinn Falls Bridge and Callander Crags, Ben A’an, Loch Lubnaig, the River Keltie, and Loch Venachar. Bicycles can be hired for trips from local businesses such as the Wheels Cycling Centre, with cycle trails and footpaths covering areas such as the old Callander to Oban railway and a section of the Rob Roy Way. Fishing permits are available from Baynes Tackle Shop in Callander for those planning to fish on Loch Lubnaig.
Among the many things to see and do in Callander are the Hamilton Toy Collection on Main Street, a museum of childhood memories which also features a well-stocked shop full of delightful cult curiosities. Additionally, there is an antiques shop – Lady Kentmore’s Antiques (also situated on Main Street) – which has a wide range of ornaments, jewellery and rarities on offer. The shop has been a finalist in the BBC Home and Antiques Best Antiques Shop in the UK.
For art lovers, the Galleria Luti – based at 16 Ancaster Square – offers an eclectic range of original contemporary artwork including ceramics, jewellery, sculpture, paintings, prints, sketches, gift cards, and many other items. At the other end of Ancaster Square is one of Callander’s most eye-catching landmarks, St Kessock’s Church. Though it has not been active as a place of worship since the 1980s, the building (constructed in 1883, replacing an earlier church) features a prominent spire and remains a popular destination as it now functions as a shop, as well as providing private office space.
The Trossachs Distillery is situated at The Barn, Upper Drumbane on the outskirts of Callander, and is a multi-award winning distillery which is the home of McQueen Handcrafted Gin. Tours can be booked by prior arrangement.
Callander is also host to a number of festival events, including the largest rural jazz and blues festival in Scotland, as well as a Summer Festival, and Winter Festival.
A village set in scenic environs, Aberfoyle is particularly treasured by outdoors enthusiasts and nature lovers. There are many panoramic views and scenic trails to enjoy, including a gentle stroll to a nearby waterfall and more strenuous routes to lofty woods and rocky crags. Situated close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest, Aberfoyle is the perfect place for walkers and cyclists. The Doon Hill and Fairy Knowe walk is a circular route which boasts some truly beautiful views. Walkers undertaking the Rob Roy Way often find Aberfoyle to be an ideal stop between Drymen and Callander. The Three Lochs Forest Drive is situated close to the village, while the celebrated Aberfoyle Golf Club is located nearby at Braeval.
For those who enjoy an outdoors challenge, Go Country – the Forest Hills Water Sports Centre – is based at Kinlochard and offers activities such as canoeing and an assault course. Aberfoyle Bike Park provides no less than 700 metres of biking trails, with many features and challenges along the way. Go Ape, the famous outdoor activity centre, features two of Britain’s longest zip-wires – something which gives aerial adventure enthusiasts the chance to view the beautiful forest scenery from an entirely different perspective!
Based at the Duke’s Pass, The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre offers a variety of trails which are suitable for all tastes, as well as tree-top adventures, a café, and plenty of information for visitors. The Aberfoyle VisitScotland iCentre is situated conveniently on Main Street, and the knowledgeable staff members there have information on many locations throughout the area. There is also a bookshop on the premises, along with other merchandise.
The Scottish Wool Centre is one of the most popular attractions in Aberfoyle, and presents many activities for visitors to enjoy. These include ‘The Gathering’, a three-times-daily dog and duck show (which takes place between April and September), where a shepherd will give a history of Scottish sheep and commands his dog ‘on hand’ to herd ducks. Other animals are sometimes also on site in observation areas, including birds and different breeds of sheep. The Scottish Wool Centre also offers a large shop area with clothing and other gift items on sale, as well as a restaurant area.
Between April and September, visits to Inchmahome Priory by ferry are always popular. This island sanctuary functioned for over three centuries, with Robert the Bruce visiting it three times while King of Scotland. Mary Queen of Scots was also kept safe at this location as a child during Henry VIII’s ‘Rough Wooing’; Henry attacked Stirling in an attempt to force Mary into marrying his son, in order to unite the two kingdoms.
Other historical stories in the Aberfoyle area include the legend of the ‘Poker Tree’, situated close to the main crossroads; while in the village, don’t forget to find out the link between this mysterious tree and Baillie Nicol Jarvie, a Glasgow magistrate and cousin of the infamous Rob Roy MacGregor, who once stayed at an inn at the Clachan of Aberfoyle.
Trossachs Pier is situated at the eastern end of splendid Loch Katrine, and offers a great family day out in a location unmatched for its magnificent scenery. Trossachs Pier is famous for its sightseeing cruises on the Sir Walter Scott steamship, with one-hour cruises available (though pre-booking is highly recommended), while a two-hour voyage to Stronachlachar on the western shore of Loch Katrine is also available. Checking departure times on the day of your journey is essential; the booking office is conveniently situated at the pier complex, where knowledgeable staff members are on hand to answer enquiries.
For those who prefer land-based adventures, bikes can be hired from nearby Katrine Wheelz which allows visitors to explore the historic landscape at their own pace. Restaurants and picnic locations are also accessible nearby, as is a gift shop.
Trossachs Pier is also a popular starting point for the Three Lochs Forest Drive, a famous seven-mile-long road trip which takes visitors past three lochs of the Trossachs – Lochan Reòidhte, Loch Drunkie and Loch Achray. The drive is especially admired among wildlife enthusiasts, as woodland animals and birds can often be seen in their natural habitat. Wild camping and walking trails are also available.
A beautiful hamlet, situated just half a mile away from Callander, Kilmahog is perhaps best-known for the Kilmahog Woollen Mill, which offers a wide range of clothing and tartan items as well as a restaurant. The adjacent field is home to some friendly and very distinguished Highland cows – don’t forget to find out their story when you’re visiting. Other retail destinations in the village include the Trossachs Woollen Mill and the Scottish Real Ale Shop.
Kilmahog is a popular destination for quiet walks alongside the River Leny (Garbh Uisgein the original Gaelic), at the junction between the Lochearnhead and Trossachs roads. Remains of an ancient hillfort can be found at nearby Dunmore overlooking Loch Venachar, while the earthworks from Roman ramparts dating from the 1stcentury can be seen in the vicinity of Bochastle.
There is also a well-signposted walk up to Samson’s Putting Stone, a massive rock which was deposited by a prehistoric glacier at the summit of Bochastle Hill overlooking the town of Callander. Its name derives from a local legend, namely that a family of giants had once organised a putting competition and that one of the putting stones had become lodged atop the hill. The view from the apex allows for a truly breathtaking view of the surrounding area.
The villages of Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre all lie within the bounds of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. This is a fantastic walking area, with popular destinations including Kirkton Glen in Balquhidder, Beinn an t-sideanfrom Strathyre and the Glen Ogle Trail in Lochearnhead. From Strathyre on the Rob Roy Way, visitors can head to Killin in The Highland North section of the Heart 200.
The area also features the BLiSS Sculpture Trail. The acronym BLiSS stands for the four villages which are linked by the trail: namely Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans. The ‘I’ stands for both Tourist Information and the Innovation in Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design (2016). BLiSS features a series of arts installations which blend into the exquisite scenery, blending creative art with natural beauty. An app for mobile devices, which features an audio tour, has been produced as an accompaniment for the trail. On the app, each of the art installations is described either by the artist themselves or a local person, and there are also photographs and maps to show all of the individual locations in the vicinity.
Lochearnhead Watersports Centre is a real hidden gem of the area, offering everything from paddle boarding to wake boarding and many other activities besides. For those who prefer land to water, there are two Munros – Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin– on the south side of Loch Earn, while other popular walking routes include the Glen Ogle trail and the Glen Ample walk.
The Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games and Gathering take place annually in July, and includes track and field events, heavy events (including caber tossing), and a hill race. Lochearnhead also hosts a sheep-shearing competition, Lochearnhead Shears, which is now one of the largest contests of its type in the United Kingdom.
This area has a long history of settlement, recorded by its Neolithic burial chamber and Bronze Age loch dwelling (Crannog). Scottish folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734) lived and died in the area around Loch Voil, and his grave is in Balquhidder.